Let’s have a thorough understanding of how our mind functions when we are bombarded with perpetual unavoidable disturbing information and we have a sensory overload. Mental illness is not a cake walk; it is very real for people who are fighting different kinds of psychological battles.
What happens when individuals are repeatedly exposed to chronic stressful events for a prolonged period which directly puts their psychological health at risk?
It makes them feel “dis-eased” causing them to feel as if they are losing control over the external world including themselves, and perceiving a negative and pessimistic outlook. Here comes the concept of Learned Helplessness and Hopelessness per say. Both these terms are cognitive distortions/errors in our thought process that keep individuals trapped in their own irrational, persistent and intense beliefs, fears, thoughts and emotions. These feelings keep them in a loop; it’s like a vicious cycle.
This concept was given by Martin Seligman (1967). He and his colleagues conducted an experiment to show how animals learnt helplessness by exposing laboratory dogs to uncontrollable shocks. The dogs started acting in a passive and helpless manner when they were in a situation where they could control the shocks. In contrast, animals first exposed to equal amounts of controllable shocks had no trouble in learning how to control them.
This states that when animals or humans find that they have no control over aversive events they may learn that they are helpless which makes them unmotivated to try to respond in the future. They exhibit passivity and form an attributional style which is pessimistic in nature. This kind of cognitive style develops through social learning. A further addition to this hypothesis is known as “hopelessness expectancy.”
Abramson, Metalsky and Alloy defined this concept by the perception that one had no control over what was going to happen and by the absolute certainty that an important bad outcome was going to occur. Individuals who are high in neuroticism (as we discussed earlier, all sorts of psychosocial factors when faced with such adverse, traumatic incidents) are more likely to be shackled in the prison of their own cognitive web. Other factors like low self-esteem, high anxiety, addictive behaviors, obsession and compulsive behaviors and failures in interpersonal relationships (family, friends, colleagues, etc.) are shown to be associated as well in these individuals.
Most importantly, people with an amalgamation of these dysfunctional cognitive/thinking styles are much more likely to develop “unipolar depression.” Researchers over the last 20 years have shown substantial evidence about the same which is why we have called it a cognitive nexus as it feels nearly impossible for such people to get out of this cycle and break the loop.
Having had a clear understanding of what these thinking patterns are and how they develop, the good news is that we can break this vicious and spiral loop, and we can definitely get out of it.
Over the years, countless people have been able to overcome their mental struggles by seeking professional help and their own will power.
It is essential to note, healthy behavior like exercise, good nutrition, abstaining from substance abuse, maintaining a good sleep hygiene, being productive, having a solid support system and seeking therapy (if need be) are important contributors to the longevity of many healthy and optimistic people.
Professional psychologists/psychotherapists apply various therapeutic tools such as social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, dialectical behavioral therapy, creative art-based therapy, providing family and interpersonal therapy, etc., enhance well being and health of an individual. To conclude, the author would like to convey to all its readers, “Believe in the power of healing.”
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